Before Florida coach Urban Meyer even started his postgame speech, his players had already said it all in the locker room.
“The season starts now,” receiver David Nelson said.
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Indeed. The top-ranked Gators finished their “preseason” undefeated and unchallenged.
Now, it’s Tennessee time.
Tim Tebow threw four touchdown passes, ran for another score and Florida beat Troy 56-6 Saturday in its final tuneup before beginning Southeastern Conference play.
“We’re thinking about Tennessee right now,” linebacker Ryan Stamper conceded.
The Gators have won four in a row against the Volunteers, and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin’s recruiting accusations in February and his promise to beat Florida has the Gators eager for this meeting. Even though they downplayed the matchup Saturday, it was a motivating factor during the offseason.
One of Kiffin’s quotes was plastered around the football complex.
“I’m really looking forward to embracing some of the great traditions at the University of Tennessee, for instance the Vol Walk, running through the T, singing Rocky Top all night long after we beat Florida next year,” Kiffin said. “It will be a blast.”
Florida had all the fun the last two years, winning by a combined score of 89-26.
And although Meyer acknowledged in the spring that Kiffin’s comments fired him up, he vowed Saturday that next week’s game will not be about the coaches.
“There’s a bunch of great athletes on both sides of the ball,” Meyer said. “The thing we’ll never let happen around here is it’s about a coach or coaches. And I told those players that. This is about preparation and playing a game. That’s what it is. Period.”
Florida (2-0) looked plenty prepared Saturday and tied a school record with its 12th consecutive victory.
Although the Gators started slow – they punted twice and fumbled twice in the first five possessions – once Tebow & Co. got on track in the rain, the Trojans (0-2) looked nearly as overmatched as Charleston Southern did last week. Florida scored 28 unanswered points in a 7 1/2-minute span in the second quarter to turn a close game into a rout.
Tebow completed 15 of 24 passes for 237 yards and equaled his career high with four TD passes. He also ran 13 times for 71 yards.
Jeff Demps ran for 87 yards and a touchdown. Chris Rainey added 85 yards on the ground and a score. Riley Cooper continued his strong start, catching five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, and blocking with such reckless abandon that his helmet flew off four times.
“I guess I’m the helmet cop, too,” Meyer said.
Deonte Thompson, who dropped a third-down pass early in the game and would-be TD pass in the opener, rebounded with a 33-yard touchdown reception. He injured his hamstring on the play, but should be fine for next week’s game.
Florida’s defense, upset about giving up 323 yards against Charleston Southern, allowed 139 to Troy. Getting a boost from the return of defensive end Jermaine Cunningham and cornerback Janoris Jenkins, the unit also recovered two fumbles and had an interception.
Cunningham and Jenkins were suspended for the opener. Cunningham forced a fumble early, and Jenkins had the interception midway through the second quarter.
“Defense is the name of the game today, and that defense was dominating,” Meyer said.
The biggest negative for Florida was six fumbles (three lost) on a sloppy day at The Swamp. Jonathan Phillips also missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter. His miss came a week after missing an extra point, and Meyer said the place-kicker job will be up for grabs this week.
Although the Trojans have had a penchant for playing big-time teams close, they hardly were a factor in Gainesville.
“We just close our eyes and pretend we never came here,” said coach Larry Blakeney, whose team nearly upset Ohio State and LSU last season. “But hopefully since we’ve seen the biggest, seen the best, we will learn from this experience.”
Florida got what it expected from its first two games: big yards, big points and few injuries.
Tebow also closed in on another record. His 4-yard TD run against Troy was the 45th of his career and tied him with former Auburn star Cadillac Williams for third on the SEC’s all-time list.
Tebow has LSU’s Kevin Faulk (46) and Georgia’s Herschel Walker (49) in his sights.
“I’d be lying if I said there’s not a little something different when we play Tennessee or one of the rivals,” Tebow said. “That’s the great thing about it, about SEC play, too, is there’s something a little bit different.”